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In Monday's New York Times, Douglas Quenqua reported on another racial health disparity: sleep. The notion that people sleep differently based on their race is relatively new, Quenqua writes: though it's not known exactly why, scientists have found that "non-Hispanic whites get more and better-quality sleep than people of other races . . . Blacks are the most likely to get shorter, more restless sleep." Researchers are hopeful that figuring out different sleep patterns might help them understand why some racial demographics—namely African-Americans and Latinos, who average 6.9 hours and 6.8 hours of sleep a night, respectively, to whites' 7.4 hours—"experience higher rates of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes." Across all races the consequences of little or low-quality sleep aren't good, including "obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and high blood pressure," plus emotional afflictions like depression and mood swings.
One of the authors of the study Quenqua is writing about is Northwestern's Mercedes Carnethon, who presented the findings at a conference in June. Carnethon's wasn't the only ethnicity-related sleep study presented; another, by SUNY's Abhishek Pandey, found that though foreign-born Americans report getting less sleep than their native-born counterparts, they're also less likely to feel that their sleep was "insufficient." Carnethon focused on 439 adults from the Chicago area and found other subtleties among racial groups: "Despite the fact that every racial group got less sleep than whites, only blacks reported suffering poor sleep quality and only Asians reported significant levels of daytime sleepiness," Time magazine reported.
What's behind the disparities? It's tricky to quantify, and not simply reducible to economic factors, says Kristen Knutson, an author of the study and a U. of C. professor, in the NYT article: "We had no way to control for stress, and there are social stresses an African-American man might feel that a white man with the same income and education level wouldn't." Carnethon mused on some specific stresses that black people might be exposed to in Chicago: "The blacks and Hispanics in our study were generally living in neighborhoods that are closer to freeways, so you have more freeway noise, there's more business noise at night, and there's potentially more crime, which is stressful to people."
Scientists are also looking at cultural differences, writes Quenqua: "Black and Hispanic children in America are far less likely to have regularly enforced bedtimes than white children" according to a 2010 study, and "White children were also more likely to have 'languaged-based' bedtime routines—those that involve reading or storytelling—both of which are associated with a wide range of cognitive and behavioral advantages." The full story is here.